Pull the safety brake

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

The fear we are gripped by relates to the future of life and the guarantee that we can still remain alive on this planet

We find ourselves at the heart of an appalling and widespread crisis in the way we inhabit and relate to our planet, devastated and crossed by wars of great destruction and driven by racial and ideological hatred. Furthermore, the age of scientific reason created the irrationality of the principle of self-destruction: we can put an end, with weapons already built, to our lives and much if not the entire biosphere.

There are many analysts of the world situation who warn us about the possible use of such weapons of mass destruction. The underlying reason would be the dispute over who is in charge of humanity and who has the last word. It has to do with the confrontation between the unipolarity supported by the United States and the pluripolarity demanded by China, Russia, and eventually the group of countries that form the BRICS. If there is a nuclear war, in this case, the formula would be realized: 1+1=0: one nuclear power would destroy the other and together they would take humanity and a substantial part of life.

Given these circumstances, we find ourselves needing to pull the safety brake on the train of life, as, if unrestrained, it can plunge into an abyss. We fear that this brake is already oxidized and rendered unusable. Can we get out of this threat? We have to try, as Don Quixote said: “before accepting defeat, we have to fight every battle”. And we will give.

I use two categories to better clarify our situation. One by the Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1885), anguish, and another by the German theologian and philosopher, notable disciple of Martin Heideger, Hans Jonas (1903-1993), fear.

The anguish (The concept of anguish,Voices) for Soren Kierkegaard is not just a psychological phenomenon, but an objective fact of human existence. For him as a pastor and theologian, as well as an excellent philosopher, it would be anguish in the face of eternal perdition or salvation. But it is applicable to human life. It appears fragile and subject to dying at any moment. Anxiety does not leave a person inert, but continually moves them to create conditions to safeguard life.

Today we have to feed this type of existential anguish in the face of objective threats that weigh on our destiny, which can be fatal. It is something healthy, belonging to life and not something unhealthy to be treated psychiatrically.

Hans Jonas in his book the responsibility principle (Counterpoint) analyzes the “fear” of being placed on the edge of the abyss and falling fatally into it. We are in a situation of no return. It is no longer an ethics of progress or improvement. But the prevention of life against threats that can bring us death. Fear here is healthy and saving, as it forces us to adopt an ethic of collective responsibility in the sense that everyone contributes to the preservation of human life on Earth.

The current situation on a planetary level is beyond human control. We created Autonomous Artificial Intelligence that is now independent of our decisions. Who, with its billions and billions of algorithms, prevents it from choosing to destroy humanity?

Firstly, we have a task to fulfill: we must take responsibility for the harm that we are visibly causing to the life-system and the Earth-system, without the ability to prevent or stop it, just mitigating its harmful effects. The global energy production system is so well-oiled that it is unable and unwilling to stop. It does not renounce its basic mantras: unlimited increase in individual profit, fierce competition and the over-exploitation of nature's resources.

Furthermore, it is important to also take responsibility for the evil that we did not know how to avoid physically and spiritually in the past and whose consequences have become inevitable, such as those we are suffering such as the increasing warming of the planet and the erosion of biodiversity.

The fear we are gripped by relates to the future of life and the guarantee that we can still remain alive on this planet. In light of this desideratum, Hans Jonas formulated a categorical ethical imperative: “Act in such a way that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of an authentic human life on Earth; or, expressed negatively: act in such a way that the effects of your action are not destructive to the future possibility of such a life; or, simply, do not endanger the indefinite continuity of humanity on Earth” (Op.cit., p. 47-48). We would add “do not endanger the indefinite continuity of all types of life, biodiversity, nature and Mother Earth”.

These reflections help us to feed some hope in the ability of human beings to change, as we have free will and flexibility. But as the risk is global, a global and plural body (representatives of peoples, religions, universities, indigenous peoples, popular wisdom) is required to find a global solution. To do this we have to renounce nationalism and obsolete boundaries between nations.

As can be seen, the various wars taking place today are about boundaries between nations, the assertion of nationalism and the growing wave of conservatism and far-right policies push this idea of ​​a collective center for the good of all humanity away. .

We must recognize: these conflicts over limits between nations are detached from the new phase of the Earth, which has become a Common Home, and represent regressive movements contrary to the irresistible course of history that increasingly unifies human destiny with the destiny of the living planet.

We are one Earth and one Humanity to be saved. And urgently, because the clock is running against us. Let us change minds and our practices.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Mature Earth: A Theology of Life (Planet).


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